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LEADERS' THOUGHTS

Progressing towards an integrated ASEAN

Member states' Permanent Representatives to ASEAN share their views on the ASEAN Economic Community

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AMBASSADOR PENGIRAN HAJAH FAEZAH PENGIRAN HAJI ABDUL RAHMAN, Brunei's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

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AMBASSADOR ADE PADMO SARWONO, Indonesia's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

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AMBASSADOR EKKAPHAB PHANTHAVONG, Lao People's Democratic Republic's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

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AMBASSADOR SHARIFFAH NORHANA SYED MUSTAFFA, Malaysia's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

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AMBASSADOR MIN LWIN, Myanmar's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

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AMBASSADOR ELIZABETH P. BUENSUCESO, The Philippines' Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

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AMBASSADOR TAN HUNG SENG, Singapore's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

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AMBASSADOR PHASPORN SANGASUBANA, Thailand's Permanent Representative to ASEAN.

AMBASSADOR PENGIRAN HAJAH FAEZAH PENGIRAN HAJI ABDUL RAHMAN, Brunei's Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to thus far. Apart from expanding market access, the Agreement, when it was the ASEAN community building process, particularly in the development concluded and signed in 2009, was a pioneer as it included new areas of ASEAN's external relations?

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is a culmination of years of collective efforts by all ASEAN Member States in breaking down the barriers to trade and investment in the region towards achieving a deeply integrated and highly cohesive economy. As we push forward to enhance our cooperation, we have to recognise that progress thus far is significant.

For Brunei Darussalam, being a part of the AEC provides opportunities to our business community to establish their footprint across ASEAN, beyond our local market of 420,000 people, and contribute towards the deepening of business ties and linkages across the region.

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On the external front, Brunei Darussalam is pleased to have played a role in helping to strengthen ASEAN's economic relations, especially with cooperation such as e-commerce, competition policy and intellectual property. In this context, the AANZFTA has played an important role as an incubating platform that has helped forward ASEAN's own economic integration agenda. To date, it is also the only ASEAN FTA with a dedicated FTA fund and established institutional support in the ASEAN Secretariat that has provided for useful capacity building and economic cooperation programmes which have further contributed to ASEAN's internal community building process.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

It means working together as a region to address the challenges we face and to keep on pursuing efforts aimed at deeper and more inclusive Australia and New Zealand through the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free regional economic integration that will continue to benefit our peoples Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) which is one of ASEAN's most ambitious FTAs and their future.


AMBASSADOR ADE PADMO SARWONO, Indonesia's Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to the ASEAN community building process, particularly in the development of ASEAN's external relations?

Among the characteristics of the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 is ''a resilient, inclusive, people-oriented and people-centred ASEAN'', which includes two key elements, namely ''Strengthening the Role of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)'' and ''Strengthening the Role of the Private Sector''. Since its inception in 1967, ASEAN has long been seen as an elite, government-led mechanism that left little room for grassroots involvement.

For me personally, seeing our MSMEs really become the economic backbone of ASEAN will be the pinnacle of an ASEAN Economic Community.

Not only do MSMEs support economic growth, but they also play an important role in bringing ASEAN to the grassroots by creating jobs among the masses.

Efforts must be carried out in implementing AEC Blueprint 2025 particularly in terms of these two elements.

Since some of the ASEAN dialogue partners have strong experiences in developing MSMEs and private sectors, I believe that closer cooperation with our partners in these two issues will accelerate the ASEAN Integration, and at the same time, strengthen partnership with our partners.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

It is when, among others, we could finally witness more MSMEs including unicorn companies of ASEAN present in all ASEAN countries which will contribute to ASEAN's economic strength and growth.


AMBASSADOR EKKAPHAB PHANTHAVONG, Lao People's Democratic Republic's Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to the ASEAN Community building process, particularly in the development of ASEAN's external relations?

Contributions of the ASEAN Economic Community Pillar to the ASEAN Community building process are shown through the achievement of its five characteristics of economic community building.

First, it seeks to make ASEAN a highly integrated and cohesive economy by supporting sustained high economic growth by boosting trade, investment, and job creation; improving regional capacity to respond to global challenges.

Secondly, it aims at making ASEAN more competitive, innovative, and dynamic with a focus on productivity, innovation, good government, digital technology utilisation, and participation in the global value chain.

Third, AEC enhances connectivity and sectoral cooperation for the effective functionalisation of economic community.

The fourth contribution focuses on making the ASEAN community resilient, inclusive, people-oriented, and people-centred where a desire of narrowing development gaps among AMS is explicitly highlighted.

Finally, AEC contributes to make ASEAN more global and economically connected with the world by enhancing a more systematic and coherent approach towards its external economic relations and promoting its concept of ASEAN Centrality to preserve potential legitimate rights and benefits of AMS regardless of their level of development.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

An economically integrated ASEAN means both opportunities and challenges for AMS. The opportunities include deeper market access, institutional and regulatory improvement, and narrower development gaps. In terms of market access, consumers can enjoy more product and service choices at more reasonable and lower prices. This is because tariff and non-tariff barriers are broken down leading to freer flow of products and services across borders. Despite benefits, an economically integrated ASEAN brings also many challenges. This requires substantial readiness by both private and public sectors.


AMBASSADOR SHARIFFAH NORHANA SYED MUSTAFFA, Malaysia's Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to the ASEAN community building process, particularly in the development of ASEAN's external relations?

The ASEAN economy is now the 6th largest in the world and its current state of play is a testament to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). In discussing this success, the key word I would associate with the AEC is ''integration''. Various economic integration initiatives implemented under the AEC pillar, particularly those of trade, investment and employment opportunities greatly contribute towards a positive and sustained ASEAN economic growth and subsequently the ASEAN community building process.

Generally, ASEAN economic integration has provided the opportunities for a significant expansion of the market to industry players and SMEs, and it's not only limited to the market within ASEAN countries but also in ASEAN dialogue partners. To illustrate, Malaysia has a relatively small domestic market of an estimated 32 million population versus ASEAN's 641 million and its dialogue partners of more than 2 billion. This offers tremendous opportunities for ASEAN stakeholders to further expand.

Besides market expansion, ASEAN as a community also has a stronger voice when developing its relations with foreign partners. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is an ASEAN-led initiative, is one example to cite. There is a general consensus that as a bloc, the AEC allows for a more favourable multilateral setting for ASEAN in providing sound economic frameworks for the furtherance of its interests.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

An economically integrated ASEAN is a forward-looking ASEAN economic community equipped with the tools to advance the region's interest and its peoples enjoying concrete financial and economic benefits.


AMBASSADOR MIN LWIN, Myanmar's Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to the ASEAN community building process, particularly in the development of ASEAN's external relations?

The ASEAN as a community aims to instill a sense of belonging and identity among its citizens, and that brings new opportunities to the people of ASEAN and the broader global community. These opportunities include the prospect of a more peaceful and stable region, more open and rules-based market for the business community, better health for our children and women, more educational opportunities for young people, and a more sustainable environment that can provide for the needs of our present and future generations, among others.

In the ASEAN Community building process, the integration measures under the ASEAN Economic Community have contributed to a more open market, reduced trade costs, improved investment regimes, free trade and comprehensive partnership agreements, a business-friendly and innovation-supportive environment, physical improvements in transportation and other infrastructure networks, integration with the global economy and narrowing the development gap.

The ASEAN Economic Community vision for 2025 includes a highly integrated and cohesive economy, a competitive, innovative and dynamic ASEAN, with enhanced economic connectivity as well as integration and cooperation across sectors, while fostering a resilient, inclusive and people-oriented, people-centred community that is integrated into the global economy. The ASEAN Economic Community has put in place frameworks and legal structures on competition, consumer protection and intellectual property, contributing to an improved environment for business.

In the development of its external relations, ASEAN has developed stronger economic ties with strategic partner countries namely the People's Republic of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India through free trade and comprehensive economic partnership agreements. These agreements provide opportunities for ASEAN businesses to expand their reach in the markets to strategic partner countries, and strengthen their role in regional and global value chains.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

n my opinion, 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means a region which has fair trade in the economic integration process and it embraces the cross-cutting elements such as infrastructure connectivity, institutional connectivity and people connectivity across the ASEAN region.


AMBASSADOR ELIZABETH P. BUENSUCESO, The Philippines' Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to the ASEAN community building process, particularly in the development of ASEAN's external relations?

ASEAN has undergone a dramatic transformation in its economic integration since its founding in 1967. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2015 identified the characteristics and elements of the AEC consistent with the Bali Concord II, which aimed to transform ASEAN into a stable, prosperous and highly-competitive region, with equitable economic development, reduced poverty and reduced socio-economic disparities, while progressing in tandem with the establishment of the ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).

In 2014, the ASEAN Secretariat reported that the combined GDP of ASEAN was over US$2.5 trillion, while average GDP per capita grew by almost 80 per cent to over US$4,000. Over the same period, ASEAN has also become more influential, with widening markets regionally and globally.

By 2014, it had become Asia's 3rd largest, the world's 7th largest, and among the most advanced integrated markets. This economic dividend has also contributed to greater effectiveness in the development of ASEAN's external relations, to pursue an agenda towards a politically stable, economically integrated and socially responsible community, and to maintain ASEAN's centrality in the constantly shifting regional political and security architecture.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

An economically integrated ASEAN to me is one that acts as a huge single market and production base vis-à-vis the global markets, and one with an active and substantial intra-ASEAN exchange in all areas, including goods, services, and investment - to the benefit of all countries in the region.


AMBASSADOR TAN HUNG SENG, Singapore's Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to the ASEAN community building process, particularly in the development of ASEAN's external relations?

Over the last 50 years, ASEAN member states have collectively made great strides in our economic development. In 1967, ASEAN's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita was only US$122. In 2016, ASEAN's GDP per capita reached US$4,021.

Trade jumped from US$10 billion to US$2.2 trillion, expanding more than 220 times.

In 2016, ASEAN's combined GDP stood at US$2.55 trillion, making it the 6th largest economy in the world.

And ASEAN has not reached its peak yet. This economic transformation is possible primarily because ASEAN has steadfastly supported a free, open and rules-based global trading system, and concluded a network of free trade agreements with its major economic partners.

In other words, ASEAN has prospered because it has refrained from looking inwards, but cast our eyes outwards to engage our external partners in mutually beneficial cooperation.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

Ultimately, an economically integrated ASEAN must deliver tangible benefits to our citizens. The men in the streets of ASEAN capitals must feel that the AEC has touched their lives, improved their economic well-being, and made a difference.


AMBASSADOR PHASPORN SANGASUBANA, Thailand's Permanent Representative to ASEAN

How do you think the ASEAN Economic Community has contributed to the ASEAN community building process, particularly in the development of ASEAN's external relations?

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) can contribute significantly to the ASEAN community building process for a number of reasons.

First, the economic aspect of regional integration tends to be more visible than political-security and social-cultural aspects. It is something that can have big impacts on the livelihood of ASEAN citizens since regional economic integration presents both opportunities and challenges to businesses and ordinary peoples of ASEAN. That is why governments of ASEAN Member States have worked hard to ensure that the AEC is mutually beneficial and their peoples are well prepared for it.

Consequently, peoples of ASEAN are more aware of ASEAN and the ASEAN Community through the AEC. Secondly, and more specifically to ASEAN's external relations, when the AEC is successful, ASEAN economy as a whole is attractive to the rest of the world. This in turn results in more countries interested in engaging with ASEAN politically. This can be seen from the increased requests to interface with the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN (CPR) by dialogue partners and external parties.

However, one has to recognise the relevancy of the ASEAN Community comprehensively and in a multi-facet feature through ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. ASEAN citizens will not be able to benefit from prosperity if there is no peace, resilience and harmony through diversity in the region. Through these attractive components in the region, it will sustain more positive and tangible engagements and cooperation from dialogue partners and external parties with the region.

Tell us what 'an economically integrated ASEAN' means to you.

An economically integrated ASEAN means a strong and prosperous ASEAN Community with higher standards of living for ASEAN citizens where no one is left behind.